Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Book Review: Made By Hand, by Mark Frauenfelder

Made By Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World was a vary interesting read. The author, Mark Frauenfelder, founded Boing Boing and is the editor in chief of Make Magazine. He writes candidly about feeling kind of bogged down by technology, spinning his metaphorical wheels without really going anywhere. It's not an uncommon phenomenon. (I linked before to this series of posts about the Slate writer who decided to go on a complete Internet fast.) Anyway, Frauenfelder's attempts to shake off his digital ennui lead him - and his family - first to a failed experiment in living largely off the grid on Rarotonga, an island in the South Pacific. When that doesn't work out, an opportunity comes along for him to work for Make, which leads him to start becoming involved in a number of DIY type projects.

Frauenfelder soon discovers that stepping away from the computer monitor and actually doing things with his hands - designing, making, building, retrofitting, customizing - can be extremely rewarding. Emotionally, psychologically, monetarily, etc. This isn't an earthshaking revelation of course, but it's nice to be reminded that, sometimes, doing something yourself, even if you make mistakes, is ultimately more valuable than farming out the task to "a professional."

His chapter about killing his front lawn and setting up a garden had me itching for warmer weather so I can start trying to grow plants on our balcony again. Later chapters, about beekeeping, instrument-building and spoon-whittling made me start thinking about projects I'd like to take on. (You know, in my copious spare time.) I'll admit it, I'm pretty easily inspired by that sort of thing. I can barely walk into a craft store without coming up with half a dozen projects I'd love to start if only I had the time.

I kind of wish Frauenfelder had waited to write the book until after he'd had a bit more DIY experience under his belt. I get it, sure, he had book material and wanted to use it for a payday; can't fault him for that. But as of the writing he'd only been doing this stuff for about a year and a half. He'd only just started keeping bees. (I wanted to know how that endeavor turned out.) I guess I'd like to see a second book, five, ten years down the road. This book was good for what it was - Hey! Doing stuff yourself is fun and not insurmountably difficult! - so I suppose that's all I can ask of it.

Definitely give it a read. It won't take you long (it wouldn't have taken me long at all if I hadn't set it aside for several weeks after reading the first chapter), and it's certainly very interesting.

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